For Buddhists everywhere, the Bhavacakra is a powerful reminder of samsara, the cycles of transmigratory existence that operate both physically and psychologically in the lives of all beings.
At its hub are animals that symbolize greed, hatred, and confusion qualities that poison experience and perpetuate suffering.
The six divisions in the spokes of the wheel depict scenes of the six destinies: the six realms in which living beings take birth. Uppermost are the heavenly realms of the devas, or gods. To the right and left are the realms of humans and asuras, powerful beings ruled by anger and jealousy. The lower divisions contain the animal realm, the desolate fields of the hungry ghosts, and the burning and freezing hells.
Forming the rim of the wheel are twelve images depicting the twelve links of pratityasamutpada, or interdependent origination. Beginning with ignorance and ending with birth, old age, and death, each link in the chain becomes the cause of the next, perpetuating ceaseless cycles of cause and result. Gathering momentum with each repetition, these cycles unfold within each thought and action.
Magnetized by the flow of events, beings are cast down from the heavens to the hells and flung into the intermediate realms according to their karma and the conjunction of causes and conditions. Holding the wheel firmly in his grasp is Yama, lord of death, the end of all living beings, even the gods. The Buddha stands outside the wheel, demonstrating the possibility of liberation.
Out of compassion, the Blessed One also manifests to beings in each of the six realms in ways that inspire them to generate merit and awaken the thought of enlightenment.
This thanka is a photograph of The Wheel of Life Wall Mural at the Dharma Publishing head office in Cazadero, Caifornia.